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Victoria council stops dining on taxpayers' dime

Mar 27 2012

There will be no more free lunches for Victoria city councillors.

With an eye to keeping a lid on a proposed tax increase, Victoria councillors have voted in favour of a motion put forward by Coun. Marianne Alto to eliminate catering for councillors during council and committee meetings.

Only councillors Ben Isitt and Pam Madoff voted against the motion.

Alto admitted the change is largely symbolic - saving maybe $12,000 a year - but she said it's important.

"The message to me is two-fold," Alto said.

"We know that we have a challenging budget ahead of us and we're looking for every penny we can. So even though it's only worth about $12,000, it's still $12,000. And the other way to think of it is that it's a rare job where you get fed."

Isitt questioned the motive behind Alto's motion, saying it appeared to be more about optics than about any real savings.

He said it's telling that other budget initiatives that would have produced larger savings, such as possible reductions to the police overtime budget or reducing councillor salaries and making a portion of those salaries tax-free, were not supported.

"It's no secret we're not paid big salaries or anything. So it seems like a very modest benefit but a big benefit in terms of the efficiency of decision-making," Isitt said.

"If working lunches are an obligation of office, I think modest budgetary allocation is appropriate," said Isitt, whose amendment to allow some provision for working lunches failed.

The cost of the lunches alone likely would be less than $1,000 per councillor, he said.

"I think it's actually a sign that we are willing to look at different places," Coun. Chris Coleman said.

"The majority said this isn't a huge savings, but it shows that we are serious about cutting back."

Coleman noted that the change does not apply to citizen advisory committees or to staff committees having a working lunch.

Alto's motion to have this year's overall property tax increase limited to three per cent, from the 3.5 per cent currently forecast, was not supported by the majority of the councillors. They have another budget session scheduled Thursday.

> Editorial: Frugality best as a steady diet, A10

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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